Informational masking (IM) can greatly reduce speech intelligibility, but the neural mechanisms underlying IM are not understood. Binaural differences between target and masker can improve speech perception. In general, improvement in masked speech intelligibility due to provision of spatial cues is called spatial release from masking. Here, we focused on an aspect of spatial release from masking, specifically, the role of spatial attention. We hypothesized that in a situation with IM background sound (a) attention to speech recruits lateral frontal cortex (LFCx) and (b) LFCx activity varies with direction of spatial attention. Using functional near infrared spectroscopy, we assessed LFCx activity bilaterally in normal-hearing listeners. In Experiment 1, two talkers were simultaneously presented. Listeners either attended to the target talker (speech task) or they listened passively to an unintelligible, scrambled version of the acoustic mixture (control task). Target and masker differed in pitch and interaural time difference (ITD). Relative to the passive control, LFCx activity increased during attentive listening. Experiment 2 measured how LFCx activity varied with ITD, by testing listeners on the speech task in Experiment 1, except that talkers either were spatially separated by ITD or colocated. Results show that directing of auditory attention activates LFCx bilaterally. Moreover, right LFCx is recruited more strongly in the spatially separated as compared with colocated configurations. Findings hint that LFCx function contributes to spatial release from masking in situations with IM.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Speech and Hearing
- auditory attention
- functional infrared spectroscopy
- informational masking
- lateral frontal cortex
- spatial release from masking